Monday, December 26, 2011

Ground Game: Campaign Signs and the Ron Paul Push

I count maybe fifty campaign signs in an hour’s drive around the town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Most are small and stand alone in nondescript yards. After a snowstorm or two, their cheap plastic typically wilts and the sign is left mangled, covered in road salt and muddy snow.


This election cycle, the more popular and seemingly more effective items are eight foot signs made of heavy plastic. Many are stapled to fence posts that delineate the barrier between public and private land along highways. Others stand alone in the wilderness supported by wooden frames.

At Evelyn Fogg’s MiniMart in Ringe, the Huntsman campaign has similarly utilized municipal land to aid their visibility efforts, and an eight-foot sign is on full display at the busy intersection of Route 202 and Highway 119. The store's owner says she has no intention of disturbing the sign, and everything is business as usual.


On a strip of Highway 202 just outside of Jaffrey, I spotted two large signs. One was for Mitt Romney, the other for Jon Huntsman. After a few minutes taking photos I was ready to drive off when a pickup truck pulled onto the shoulder, parking near the signs. Ron Paul supporters Jean Coutu and Warren Ojala had been driving around neighboring towns scoping out opportune locations to display their candidate's campaign materials.

Parked along the highway, one thing is clear immediately: Ron Paul supporters aren't afraid to make themselves heard, and a number of passing drivers honked their horns, to which Couto and Ojala pumped their fists and cheered.

Well aware of the lay of the land as it pertains to placing signs in the state, Coutu spoke about confusion in the nearby town of Keene, where he claimed Ron Paul signs had been wrongfully dismantled. He noted a court case and a judicial precedent that supports his assertion, but Coutu doesn't dwell, and he hurried back to the truck for another wooden sign post.

The majority of signs came courtesy of the Paul campaign, while the pair foot their own lumber and gasoline, Ojala said with a smile. A few weeks back I watched a pair of Romney staff struggle with extracting campaign signs and materials from a car outside of Manchester, the volunteers (or staffers) digging through the back seat in search of a staple gun. By comparison, Ojala's truck and the mens' experience in construction make them a model of efficiency.


The two voiced compelling perspectives on Ron Paul’s campaign: Either Paul will close down the ‘war machine,’ or it will close itself down. Paul’s consistency, they said, is without parallel in recent presidential politics, and it is his very detachment from the status quo that makes him uniquely qualified to steer the country through a painful and inevitable readjustment.

Paul supporters like Coutu and Ojala represent the potential for a powerfully-united demographic, and they are just beginning to reach out to one another and understand that their common interests are at stake; they are working class, many acutely aware of the consequences of the recent economic downturn, and as a part of channeling their anger at the forces and figures behind the financial crisis, many have responded by seeking creative forms of self-employment while participating in the construction of a political organization around their candidate and his cause.


Paul’s rank and file could be thought of as the pessimists among us, resolute in their belief that the United States should cease being the ‘policeman’ of the world and care for our wounds. In facing up to the grave challenges that our country confronts, however, their disenchantment with our current trajectory and the crop of Republicans rising to take the reigns has actually become a forward-looking political cause. In spite of doubters who express the sentiment that Paul’s positions are ‘out of touch’ with modern politics, his pitch will not sour in the coming months, and the Paul message does not depend on carefully marketed and targeted bus tours for its survival.

The same cannot be so easily said for the efforts of Romney or Huntsman, who rely upon the coordinated efforts of campaign managers and advertising firms to stay competitive. To a slight extent, Gingrich’s vocal and unconventional statements (read: that could trigger a Constitutional crisis) are radical enough to generate a breed of support that will resonate beyond his campaign, but it is Paul’s complete vision of the libertarian ideology that stands out.


Political signs are a strange metric to gauge the efficacy of campaigns. Whether it's tracking the number of Facebook "likes" each candidate has on the Fox News Elections page, daily polling averages on RealClearPolitics, FEC disclosures, advertising purchases, or tallying political and editorial endorsements, actual roadside impressions have a mysterious effect on the sentiment of voters in states such as New Hampshire that generally cuts one of two ways.

On one hand, the proliferation of campaign signs can backfire. Consider the copious Rick Santorum signs across New Hampshire, which now seem peculiar and comical. Most of the signs were installed across the state months ago, at which point Santorum’s campaign was making a dedicated push to gain traction in the state. With that effort failing by all measures—Santorum's NH support has recently been measured at 2-3%—the signs are an awkward vestige of his inability to succeed here.


On the other hand, seeing a large and flashy sign along the roadway for the candidate you support has the effect of associating one with an active base of support. Knowing that passionate volunteers like Jean Coutu and Warren Ojala took it upon themselves to install the signs reinforces a solidarity among Paul supporters. In turn, this makes that pride passing the signs even more profound. In an election season shy on excitement, a force like that fueling the efforts of Paul’s campaign handily outshines his opponents.

Casting aside the necessity of endorsements from political insiders—referring to the ‘status quo’ politicians endorsing Romney—Coutu firmly believes “they’re the ones who got us into this mess.”

Once you’re convinced of that, and the country begins to catch on, the high ceiling on Ron Paul’s support that may emerge in the coming weeks could very well astound the majority of his original skeptics, including me. 

View the complete gallery of Monandnock-region political signs in a full-screen slide show here.



Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work! Love the photos, and love your range of coverage.

Anonymous said...

Ron Paul for President!!!!!

Nate Sliffe 23 -Concord said...

Hey! Love the fact that we're starting to see well written and fair articles like this! Thank you

Christine Holmes said...

we need Ron Paul signs around Loudon Road at the I93 Exit 14. It's all Mitt Romney. Can this message get to someone who cares. It is a very high traffic area and I don't like the fact that my man for President has no signs up there. thanks

Christine Holmes said...

Great job guys!!! Now let's get someone to get some Ron Paul signs out there off Exit 14 of I93 in Concord, NH. There are no Ron Paul signs out there along that part of Loudon Road that get's so much exposure and is in our States Capital City. thanks

Gail Coleman said...

I am in Iowa. We will begin the Ron Paul Revolution here and the good people of New Hampshire will carry on with the torch we light!